WorshipSeptember 24, 2023 | Brandon Cooper
This morning we heard a sermon about properly understanding the second commandment against idolatry. Brandon explained that creating images of God reduces Him, as nothing can fully represent the Almighty. He urged us to avoid both overly emotional and intellectual views of God that neglect parts of His character. Instead, we were encouraged to get to know the true God by listening to what He has revealed about Himself in Scripture rather than relying on our own conceptions. It reminded us to seek an accurate picture of God as He really is.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Good morning church, you’re gonna go ahead grab your Bibles open up to Exodus chapter 20. And continuing our series on the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20, verses four to six this morning. As you’re turning there to Exodus 20. In the 1930s, three unruly teenagers tried to pick a fight with a guy who was sitting quietly by himself in the back of the bus and picking on for a while and he wasn’t responding. Finally, as his stop approached, he got up. Turns out he was a lot bigger than the teenagers thought he was. And he kind of just silently exited the bus and handed them his business card as he got off the business card read Joe Lewis boxer. By the way, I don’t know if that story is true, I sure hope it is. But if it isn’t, don’t you know I’m not trying to lie here or anything? But what happened there? Right? These teenagers, they didn’t treat Joe Louis Right. Because they didn’t know who he was probably would not have tried to pick a fight with the future heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Had they rightly esteemed him right, they didn’t treat him right, because they didn’t understand who he was. So you get the idea what we think of someone affects our behavior towards them. Whether we treat them as they deserve or not, that’s what the second commandment gets at. Okay, that’s what this second word that God speaks is all about, as it talks about not making or worshipping images, not going to be a little clearer here because there seems to be a quite a bit of overlap with the last commandment, the first commandment, and I want to make sure we understand the difference between them. This command here is not saying don’t make idols because you’re not supposed to have idols. We already got that one last week. Ken, we’re talking about something else. today. It’s a little bit like this is how Jen Wilkin explains it. I think she’s right here. She says the first commandment prohibits worshipping anything other than God. The second commandment prohibits worshiping any version of God that is less than God as he really is. So hold that distinction in your head last week was other than this week is less than less than, and that less than idea highlights the problem for us, and why this word is still relevant to us today. Because we seek, often unwittingly, but we seek to limit God in order to control him. Like we want to be able to get our arms, our minds around him, we want to be able to put him in a little box. And so we diminish and domesticate God, it’s a little bit like Aladdin’s Genie. Right? Phenomenal cosmic powers. Itty bitty living space. And that’s what we do with God. And probably for the same reason, right? Like, we want the phenomenal cosmic powers because we want a guy who can help us of course, but we also want to be able to carry him with us. Just pull them out when we need him so that he can serve us whenever we want. That is we want Joe Lewis walking around with us so we can punch anybody in the mouth when we need it. But we also wanna be able to push Joe Lewis around when we need to do that. So here’s our main idea today, what we’re getting at, okay? Main idea really drawn right from the Second Amendment don’t make and worship and imagined to God for three reasons. Okay, so don’t make it a mat and worship and imagine God because it’s not God. It’s not worship, and that’s a problem, but there is a solution. So that’s what we’re gonna do. Alright, let’s take them one at a time. Don’t make a worshipping imagined God because that’s not God. Exodus 20, verse four, you shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Alright, at first glance, this is all a bit confusing. You may be confused, because it says, don’t make an image of anything in the heavens above, or the earth beneath, or the waters below. That’s everywhere. Right? That’s everything. So basically what God just said, it seems that don’t make an image of anything. Did God just prohibit representational art? So you can only do abstract art? Is that what’s being talked about? Well, that can’t be because what happens a little bit later in Exodus, even just a few chapters from now, when God commands men, like a bezel owl, and a holy OB, doesn’t just command them, but then fills them with his spirits so that they can do what He commands, which is to make images of things in the heavens above, like cherubim or on the earth beneath, like pomegranates. And by the way, these aren’t even you know, nice images like hanging the museum. This isn’t your living room art, this is all to go in the temple, even. So kind of they’re sort of associated with worship at least. So this is all got a little bit more complicated. So what’s going on exactly? The second commandment prohibits making images for the purpose of worship specifically, which is where we’re going to go in the next verse, I’ll just here it is, we’ll talk about it more in the next section, but you shall not bow down to them or worship them. So we’re definitely talking about worship, specifically. So you can’t make images to represent God. For the purpose of worship, here, you’re kind of directing your attention at something as you worship. Why? Why does God prohibit this, because representing God will necessarily reduce God, it will make him smaller than he is. Remember, we’re not talking other than we’re talking less than you will make God less than he actually is. If you put an image to him. So think of some famous images of God that you’ve seen Michelangelo’s creation of Adam, for example, famous painting and kind of picture God doing this thing, right? Does it capture God’s power? Sure. Does it capture his tenderness and mercy? No, not nearly as much. Plus it makes God look like an old guy, which I’m not sure he looks like. So we got an issue here already. Children’s Bibles often make Jesus look insipid, frankly, even something like a crucifix correctly, pictures that Jesus died for us, but misses the kind of all-important piece that he also rose again from the dead is no longer on the cross, but walked out of that tomb. You see the problem, our works of art can capture the great beauty and wonder of creation. But not the creator, that’s beyond us. We can’t possibly capture him a canvas won’t fit him. Quick word to parents that as long as we’re on the subject, what that means is you got to be really careful with the literature in the movies, TV shows in your house, the Christian ones in particular that are trying to represent God, talk about them, I got no problem. I mean, maybe I got some problems, but you know, with Bibles that have pictures of Jesus in them, but you know, we need to talk about the fact that’s not Jesus. By the way, that’s not just a word for parents is it might be a word for all of us. Because y’all heard a the chosen, right? The Passion of the Christ. Now, I am not saying don’t watch the chosen necessarily. But I’m certainly saying we need to be really careful with this. Don’t be if you’re watching The Chosen to help you kind of get a picture of what life was like back then some of the context for when Jesus is speaking or the response of the people who received his works great. But I’ve known of pastors who’ve warned their congregations against things like the chosen and the passionate because they would hear their congregants say things like, when I pray to Jesus, I picture the dude from the chosen. If that’s you, then you need to stop watching the chosen. Right? So you got to see we got to be careful with what we’re doing here. That’s the point. Because these images necessarily diminish and domesticate God. Just look at this. So Jen Wilkin again explains some of the differences between an image like the golden calf, for example, we’ll talk more about the golden calf in a moment, and God has he really is. So an image is small, fixed in space, whereas God is immense beyond all reckoning, the image is inanimate, but God is living spirits. An image is location bound, you could get GPS coordinates for it, whereas God is omnipresent and images created but God is uncreated and images knew it had a beginning in time, but God is eternal and images impotent, no help to you whatsoever but our God is omnipotent, and images destructible What does Moses do to the golden calf after all grinded up into dust and makes the Israelites eat it so that’s cool. We’ll talk about that some other day. Whereas God is invincible you’re not gonna able to destroy him. An image has a fixed value, you could put it on Etsy or eBay and somebody would pay a fixed amount of money for it but our God is just the word invaluable even begin to describe it. Certainly not an image is blind and deaf and mute, but thank God our God sees and hears and speaks and then acts on our behalf. You see the problem with an image? That’s not God? It’s a lie. Because it’s diminishing and domesticating God. Maybe this helps us out too because I’m guessing most of you do not struggle with carving images of God for yourself. I
think the main danger, as J I Packer points out for us isn’t mental images, but mental images. And metal images, by the way, are the consequence, not the cause of our mental images. That is, we think a certain way about God. And that’s why we represent Him as we do. It’s not that the statue makes us think differently about God, we already were thinking small thoughts about God. Now, our imagination is a wonderful gift of God. And it is certainly a gift of God. It is one of the ways we image him, in fact, our creativity, just dimly mirroring His infinite creativity. So it is a gift of God. It allows us to do things like talking, you know, inventing Middle Earth, and all these languages. I’m grateful for imagination. I’m grateful for our ability to make-believe but make-believe is not good for relationships. If you believe make your bring make-believe into your marriage, for example, you think of your mike no wife differently than she really is that’s going to cause problems. We’d even talk about somebody living in a fantasy world. That’s not a compliment, right? And so there’s the danger, right? We can’t have a fantasy world. When it comes to God, we need to know God as he really is. Not as we imagined him to be, because that will involve diminishing him. We can’t get our minds all the way around God, the fancy theological term for that is God is incomprehensible, doesn’t mean we can’t know him. Truly, it just means we can’t know him exhaustively. We can have adequate but not absolute knowledge of God. And so there’s a humility, a leaving room for mystery in all of this. Because because we recognize that danger. Otherwise, if we’re going to try and encompass God, we will bring him down to our level or lower, we have to make them small enough that he fits inside our minds. You remember the first temptation, of course, this is Satan speaking to Eve in the garden, you know, if you eat this fruit, you will be like God, which we still want to do them anyways, the problem is, we certainly can’t bring ourselves up to God’s level. So if we’re going to be like, God, we got to bring him down to our level, there’s the danger that we will make God like us. So what needs to happen? So we keep these commandments? Yes, Lewis gets at it. Exactly. He says this, it makes little difference, whether there are pictures and statues outside the mind, or imaginative constructions within it. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. God is the great iconoclast. He’s the one who shatters our images that are too small to contain him. So let God keep smashing your small, incomplete, distorted images of him know him as he truly is. We’ll talk more about how to do that in a moment, just hang on to it. I think most of us probably struggle in one direction or the other. As we talked about this, by the way, there’s the danger of having an overly sentimental version of God, driven by our emotions often will involve kind of polishing what we assumed to be God’s rough edges so that we’ve got a God of, of love without wrath, for example. The other danger, of course, is being overly intellectual, dogmatic theological, even as though I’ve got God down. Because my theology is so good. I remember at one point, when I was involved in some cross-cultural training, the person who was doing the training said, if you move overseas, your theology will change. You know, there’s the gasp in the room, like, Oh, my theology shouldn’t change, because I got good theology. But it was an honest recognition that our theology is provincial. There is no way that my theology is not white 21st century American, because, well, that’s where I am, right? So for example, a real simple one we talk about here quite a bit is my theology was largely individualistic, because that’s what our culture is like, if I were to go overseas, I would have a bigger theology. You would have a bigger perspective. Few more minds involved. Maybe we’re going a little bit closer to get around God. By the way. I am aware of the fact that I am not speaking only to Christians in this moment, that some of you are here who are still asking questions, or maybe not even asking questions. You’re pretty competent. You don’t have questions because you know this isn’t true. But this commandment is a good commandment for you also, as skeptics and atheists, you need to make sure you know, the God you claim to reject. It is not intellectually honest to reject just a figment of your imagination, and call that a rejection of Christianity. So often when people say I don’t believe in God, I and others who’ve trained me in this will say, tell me about the God you don’t believe in. Because I probably don’t believe in him either. Right? That’s the idea. So don’t make an imagined God because that’s not really God, let God smashed the idols of your mind, preserve his transcendence, his otherness, his being beyond us. That’s the first point that’s not God. Second reason is that’s not worship me keep reading just the first half of verse five, already read it for you, you shall not bow down to them or worship them. So we’re talking about worship at this point. The last section we were talking about shouldn’t make images because that’s not really God. Here, we’re saying you shouldn’t use images in worship, because that’s not really worship them. God is not against beauty, God is not against art. Not at all. He is against us thinking that a man-made object has spiritual power, or efficacy, to bring us closer to Him. Because if focusing on this image would help us to know it, him more truly hurt. So God is not saying here, I’m not made of wood, or metal or stone, we all already know that. Right? What God is saying here is don’t think you honor me, by honoring an image of me. That’s what’s being said. So give you an example. I have pictures of Amy in my office, because I like to gaze on her beauty all day long. This is a good thing, right? Nothing wrong with it. But my wife is gonna be really unimpressed with me, if every Friday night, I go out by myself for a few hours, you know, to sports bar, catch the game kind of thing. She’s at home with all the children by herself, but I call it date night, because I got a picture of her on the table next to me. I’m gonna try it, we’ll see. But I’m pretty sure not going to be impressed. And at least in that case, the photo is an accurate representation of her not dealing in Photoshop or anything like that. But as we’ve seen, our images of God are decidedly not accurate representations. So you diminish God. But if you diminish God, it means you’re going to diminish your worship as well. What is worship? Worship is when you ascribe worth to something, well, we just gave him less worth. So we can give him less worship. I think this is one of the reasons why we like to shrink God down, by the way is because then we owe him less. You can see how this works clearly. Right here in Exodus, because while Moses is getting these commands from God, on the top of Mount Sinai, what’s happening at the bottom of Mount Sinai, Aaron is making a golden calf as an image of the uncreated God. Have you ever wondered why a calf Exactly. Here’s why it’s a calf. The pagans around Aaron worshipped bowls. So they had just left Egypt. One of the chief gods in Egypt is the bol God a purpose, and they’re headed into Canaan, and the chief Canaanite God. L. You may recognize that were like El Shaddai, el el Yoda meeting translated just as God in our English language. So the chief god L in the Canaanite Pantheon was also a bull. So we got bowls all around, but Aaron doesn’t make a bowl. He makes a baby cow. What did he just do? He made a non-threatening, approachable version of a pagan god. And we do the same thing, don’t we? We are so tempted to worship our culture’s gods. We talked about this last week, right love and money and power and on down the line. So we refashion the God who is there into their image.
Take the prosperity gospel for example. Sure, it looks a lot like Pluto, the God of wealth, doesn’t it? A God who gives you what you want; the difference of course with Pluto or a pagan god is you got to sacrifice in order to get it. What if we refund? Shouldn’t our God though, make it non-threatening and approachable? Here’s a God who just wants to give it to us already. That’s perfect. No sacrifice required. I know what you’re thinking you’re thinking. That’s why we don’t preach the prosperity gospel here, right. That’s what heretics teach out there. I tell you what the prosperity gospel is alive and well in Evangelical churches. You want me to prove this to you get on Instagram or Facebook and put in a search for Hashtag blessed? Tell me what people think the blessing of God looks like. How often it’s tied to health, and wealth and circumstances going the way I wish God would make them go in my life, we equate the blessing of God with our temporal happiness. There’s Pluto refashioned in an approachable, non-threatening way I could go on down the line, of course, tell me we haven’t done that with the God of power, which for us today looks like politics. So we put our God on top of an elephant or a donkey, so that he serves what we want him to serve. You see the issue, we need to worship God. To worship God rightly we need to know him precisely. How do we do that? How do we get to know God as he really is we get a clue at Sinai again. So because of that whole golden that calf episode, when Moses comes down the mountain, he takes these stone tablets that we’ve just written his ten commandments down, and he smashes them into pieces. Well, a little bit later covenants kind of reinstated all that stuff, and he gets to write the tablets again, and the word that’s used there when Moses engraves the tablets is the same word because you all know this command if you learned it, some years ago as graven images, right? Engraved graven same word. Okay? So he’s engraving, these tablets, but he’s engraving words, not images. And that’s key. God speaks at Sinai, he isn’t put on a puppet show. Here’s the way Peter light heart put it. He says at Sinai, he does not show himself Yabe is the unseen God who speaks he is a word. That’s important. In the Bible, throughout the Bible, eyes are the organ for scrutinizing or judging, evaluating, can see this right at the beginning. God looks at the world he’s created and evaluates it, it’s good. A little bit later even looks at the fruit and evaluates it judges, it’s desirable for eating, but we don’t get to scrutinize, judge, evaluate God. That is not our responsibility, not in the slightest. The ears, however, throughout Scripture are for receiving, in fact, to hear in both Hebrew and Greek is virtually synonymous with to obey. The Greek word for obedience, for example, is two words. What’s that called? Two words go together? Whatever it is, two words put together, would you say compound word? Thank you. These are things I should know. For underhearing, that’s what obedience is, is being underhearing someone. So you see the ears are for receiving. And obeying the point is clear. We know and worship God, rightly, when we listen to His word. When we listen to His word, the Bible is the key. So as long as we’re in a worship service here, like let’s talk about this for a moment, this explains why we do things the way we do. On Sunday mornings, we read Scripture, we sing scripture, at least songs inspired by scripture, and the bulk of our time is devoted to the sermon, the application of God’s word to our specific context. Some of you guys give me a hard time about unlike my sermons, I just gotta let you know right now, I am totally unapologetic, totally unapologetic, okay. Because this is what we’re here to do is to listen to God’s word. It’s also why we don’t do some of the things we don’t do here. That’s what’s known as, again, if you want the fancy theological term, the regulative principle, which teaches that we should do in a worship service, the sorts of things that God tells us to do in a worship service. I heard somebody summarize it is basically worship God as He wants to be worshipped, and he tells us all sorts of things we should do. So you may be asking the question, why don’t we show more movie clips during the sermons make them more interesting, right? Why don’t we have dances occasionally or dramas even? And we have on occasion done some of those things, but they will be very occasional because they’re not commanded in Scripture. And because we want to focus here on hearing, and not seeing, we live in an age of spectacle, don’t we? We got enough to look at. And by the way, the church can’t compete with the spectacle out there. Right? Like there are not enough fog machines in the state of Illinois to make us as cool as what goes on outside these doors. We’re not even going to try to compete, right? We’ve got enough sights what we need is more sounds in discipleship, we must strive to know God precisely, which will lead us to worship Him rightly. How do we do that? We listen to His word, we read and study and meditate, don’t worship an imagined God because that’s not really worship, get to know God as He has come to the God who is really there. So don’t make or worship. Imagine God. Third reason, because that’s a problem. That’s a problem. There is a solution that let’s keep reading. So rest of verse five and verse six, I’ll just start at verse five, you shall not bow down to them or worship them for I, the Lord your God and Majelis God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents of the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. But showing love to 1000 generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments. Alright, there’s some hard words in these verses, we got to talk about some of them for sure. The first word is that word jealous. Jealous, which maybe rubs us the wrong way. Of course, we got to be careful with our imaginations. That’s what we’ve been talking about this morning. So in our imaginations, we hear jealous and we think teenage romance. That’s what we think about with jealous, right. Why is she talking to that guy when I got a crush on her, you know, like, that’s not okay. That would make God seem petty, fickle, insecure, all these things. But that’s definitely not the image that God gives. For us the analogy God offers us throughout his word, things like marriage and family for his relationship to us that would change the nature of jealousy. Because we are rightfully jealous for our marriages, against anything that would threaten them. You know, somebody is trying to seduce our spouse away from us. And especially because we know Look, adultery is not good. Adultery does not bring you happiness, it destroys lives, or we’re jealous for our children. Like we have friends of friends who just lost a child to a cult. And they’re jealous because they know that cult is not the cult are not good for people. You all know that right? cults are not good for your children, so they’re jealous for their child. In this situation, God cares enough about his bride and his children to feel jealous when we’re being seduced by false gods, thank God, because it means he doesn’t want us to be destroyed. But the things we would settle for in place of him, that also explains the next hard words, though, which is when God punishes sins to the third and fourth generation. Oh, God is a just God. I notice it’s the third and fourth generation of those who hate him. And we’re talking about serious stuff that you cannot be neutral on the question of God, that you either love God or hate him and there is no in between. I know some of you think you’re living in an in between and you can’t, you can’t, because you’re rejecting God as God, those who hate Him, those who diminish and domesticate him experience punishment. But the third and fourth generation catches us off guard. What does that mean? I’ll tell you what it does not mean it can’t possibly mean that God will punish the innocent, righteous grandchildren of a wicked man. Because God explicitly says, nope. Elsewhere in Scripture, here’s Ezekiel 18, verse 20. The whole chapter is really about this, but this one puts it clearly the one who sins is the one who will die, the child will not share the guilt of the parent. So we’re talking about those who follow in dad’s or granddad’s footsteps, who also hate God and diminish and domesticate him in order to serve themselves. It’s a hard word.
That’s also not the focus here, though, is it? And we can’t skip it. I don’t want to pretend to skip it. But we’ve got three or four generations, set in contrast to 1000 generations. What’s going on there now three or four generations, is the lifespan of someone who lives that you know, long full life that we talked so much about. If you live to old age, you will see grandkids their generation, great grandkids, possibly fourth generation. 1000 generations is more than the sum total of human history. I mean, Moses here is talking 3500 years ago, we’re 180 generations removed from him, not even a fifth of the way there. You see the point that God I mean, he’s using hyperbole to make this point. I think we’re supposed to really get specific and count generations here. He’s using hyperbole to make a clear point. Here’s how John Dixon sums it up. He says, God’s jealous outrage will be visible for the totality of the betrayers life, whereas God’s blessing on the faithful will be beyond the human capacity to fathom. Where’s the emphasis? His love, the emphasis is on his love. They’re both there. And again, don’t want to skip that because to think rightly, about God, which is what we’re talking about today means to hold truths intention. It’s not well, God is love, and therefore God has not wrath. Scripture says both, or God is so transcendent that he couldn’t possibly be nearer to me know God is both, right, one way we diminish and distort God is by lopping off one half of that tension. Don’t do that. In fact, frequently, the writers of Scripture, they bring the tension out for us to make us hold it. Here’s Romans 1122. Paul’s speaking to a group of people who are maybe struggling with their place in God’s economy, and he says, Consider, therefore, the kindness and sternness of God. You’re gonna get the right understanding what’s going on here. You need to make sure you understand God’s kindness and his severity, at the same time. And that’s what we have here two verses five and six, only two small verses reveal God as jealous he seeks the loyalty of those he loves, reveals God has just he judges his foes and He reveals him has gracious, he shows his love to 1000 generations. You start to understand the whole that’s a problem, and there’s a solution. And both of them are God. If we hate God, that’s a problem. God will justly judge us. But if we love God, I mean, there’s the solution. He’s made the solution for us. In fact, the harshness of the warning. And again, this is a harsh couple of verses here, I get that the harshness of the warning dissipates when we consider the logic of the warning. In essence, God is asking us to take him seriously, but only because he took us seriously. First, he took Israel seriously. First, he sent his love on his people. Before they did anything to deserve it. He proved his love by rescuing them out of slavery in Egypt, that’s verse to keep saying that’s the foundation of all the commands. God loved us first God rescued us first. And then he shows us how to love him in response. And, of course, that same logic, that same taking God seriously because he took us seriously first, that same tension is most evident, not in the Exodus, but at the cross of Jesus Christ. Because what happens there, when you have the fullest display of God’s fierce, righteous, just anger at our sin. There’s God’s sternness, but it is poured out not on us, but on Jesus Christ. There’s his love, his mercy, his grace. And that reminds us by the way, as long as we’re looking at the cross of Christ, that there is one and only one perfect image of God. And his name is Jesus. The word made flesh. And what I find so interesting is that Jesus, this perfect image of God was so unremarkable physically. We probably are expecting an Adonis, and yet we don’t get it. Isaiah 53, verse two, there is no beauty or majesty to attract us. There’s nothing about us physically about him physically, that would make us say, that must be God. But spiritually, Jesus Christ is the undiminished image of God, revealing the undimmed glory of God. As the New Testament says, over and over again, Colossians 115 The sun is the image of the invisible God. Hebrews one three the sun is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of his being. Or the passage that Julie read for us earlier, John 118 No one has ever seen God. But the one and only son who is Himself God, and is in closest relationship with the Father has made him known when we see Jesus, we see God. He makes the invisible visible to us. Although of course, interest. Anyway, we can no longer see Jesus. We read about Jesus we listen to His word, we we encounter the word incarnate. Now in the word inscribed. You want to know what God is like. Look at Jesus. You want to know what Jesus is like? Look at the Bible. Look at the Bible. And here’s what you’ll find there. A god immeasurably better than any you could possibly imagine. So don’t worship and imagine God; that’s a problem. Don’t mistake Joe Lewis, for your average Joe. Worship God as He truly is. See His glory as you listen to His word, the glory of God who loves us, to the 1,000th generation. Let’s pray together now. Lord, even now we approach you as you are, invisible, shrouded in mystery, certainly, because we know that you are beyond us. And yet so clearly and visibly glorious, good, gracious, loving, just wise, immeasurably more than anything we could imagine. Help us, Lord, to know you as you truly are, and to worship you in light of who you are. Not as we imagined you to be because our imagined picture of you will be so much less and so much worse. And what you’re really like to open our eyes and hearts and minds to understand to the best of our limited ability, who you are, why you’re worthy of our worship, and how can we can respond in worship, offering ourselves willingly, joyfully as living sacrifices to the glory of your name, and it’s in Christ in that we pray. Amen.